Booking last-minute holidays online

ByAnthony Hill

The internet has transformed the process of booking holidays. Here we explain how to grab your getaway without leaving the web...

Searching for a holiday online can be daunting to begin with, so it helps to have a place or timeframe in mind. For a last-minute trip, you may need to be flexible on dates or destination.

Similarly, if you have specific requirements, you might struggle to find the exact holiday you want for a price you're prepared to pay. To get the best deal, you'll need to do plenty of research.

The easiest place to start is a comparison website. Try searching some countries, or enter the dates if you're flexible on destination. This should give a rough idea of what you can afford and where the best deals can be found.

Booking flights and hotels separately sometimes saves money, but bundles are usually the cheapest option. Read on for a step-by-step guide.

 

Where to compare holiday prices

These days before you make any decision - from switching broadband provider to selecting a last-minute holiday - it's a good idea to compare prices online. There are tons of websites to help, with some specialising in flights and others more concerned with accommodation.

Flights

There are always cheap seats up for grabs, but locating them is tricky without the help of the web. Specialist websites like Skyscanner or Cheapflights.co.uk are useful if you simply want to fly somewhere without paying over the odds. Recently, Kayak.com has emerged as an up-and-coming favourite, but a quick Google search will bring up lots of alternatives. It may be worth trying more than one site, as different flights are available on each.

Hotels

If you've got the journey sorted and simply need a place to stay, websites like Hotels.com, LateRooms and trivago provide an easy means of finding the right accommodation. Once you've chosen the desired location, you can sort the results in terms of price, star rating or criteria such as distance from the airport or city centre. Take the time to look carefully at what's included, as sometimes the total booking price doesn't cover breakfast or other additional expenses.

Packages

While some websites specialise in either travel or accommodation, others are more focused on package deals. Some popular examples include lastminute.com, Expedia and TravelSupermarket.com, but most holiday sites - including those specialising in flights, hotels or travel to particular regions - now offer bundled options. Just like bundling your broadband, TV and phone with one provider, planning your whole trip on one site will often save you money. However, it can also be cheaper to purchase flights and accommodation separately, so explore the different options if you're looking for a bargain.

Top Tip - When comparing holidays online, you should always look carefully at what each price includes. Paying less for something that doesn't meet your requirements is probably a false economy. You should also read the full terms and conditions before booking anything. There are sometimes hidden costs, which could see you paying more upon arrival.

More ways to find the best deal

Comparison websites are brilliant when you know where you want to go and have specific dates for travel in mind. If you're someone who's always on the lookout for a fantastic holiday deal, the web has other very handy resources.

For example:

Agent's website - Sometimes the cheapest holidays are available from travel agents themselves. For example, Thomson and MyTravel put their latest offers in a special section of the site. Bookmarking them and checking back regularly could be one way to find a great deal.

Travelzoo  - When you sign-up for free at Travelzoo, you'll receive a weekly email newsletter filled with the site's current most popular holiday deals. To take advantage of a deal, you'll need to purchase an online voucher, which can later be redeemed once you've decided when to travel.

Making an informed decision

Whether you already have a place in mind or you're yet to find your dream destination, the web can help ensure your holiday is nothing short of perfection. With powerful search tools like Google and Bing, it's never been easier to find what you need to know about anywhere before you go.

Review websites- Booking a last-minute holiday can be a risky business, but that doesn't have to be the case. With the countless user reviews on TripAdvisor to guide you, there's no need to endure bad service or dirty hotel rooms again. For ideas and inspiration - where's good to travel for nightlife, galleries or romance, for example - another useful site is Simonseeks.com, which gives you the usually more objective expert's opinion.

Media- Magazines and newspapers are a great source of holiday inspiration, but few of us actually buy them these days. Instead, we can visit the travel sections of the Telegraph or Sunday Times online. There are tons of other examples, but these are two of the most useful.

Travel blogs- There are expert bloggers on practically any subject you could think of, and travel is certainly no exception. For insightful and interesting travel tips, try Lonely Planet or look to others for inspiration on TravelPod. The Daily Mail blog makes a fine alternative, though it's not to everyone's taste.

Buying travel insurance online

If you're planning a holiday abroad this winter or booking in advance for a summer break, you'll want to make sure you're fully insured. Travel insurance is not an optional extra, it's an absolute necessity, as anyone who's lost their luggage or fallen ill overseas will testify.

Often the best value deals are found online. For example, you should be able to find a policy insuring a family of four on a two-week holiday in Europe for around £25. It's a good idea to shop around and compare insurance quotes to find the most suitable option for your needs.

Things to consider:

  • What will you be covered for? Cancellation, illness, injury, theft?
  • How much is the excess? Could you afford it in an emergency?
  • Does the insurer pay upfront? Will you have to pay the bill yourself initially?
  • Do they have a 24-hour helpline? Very important in an emergency

Top Tip - It is vital that you inform the insurer of pre-existing medical conditions, and check they will be covered. This may cost extra, but if you fail to declare a relevant condition and then have to make a claim, it is likely to be rejected.

What are the risks of booking online?

With comparison websites and last-minute deals galore, the internet makes it easier than ever to book your dream holiday at the drop of a hat (well, the click of a mouse). However, where there's money to be made, there is always a fraudster ready to cash in.

In addition to fraudulent offers and scams, there's a risk that holidays booked online won't live up to your expectations, particularly if you've planned it in a hurry without doing your homework. Take time to research your chosen destination, airline or accommodation to ensure you know what to expect.

Things to avoid:

  • Bogus holiday scams - Fraudsters sometimes use fake websites or email offers for holidays or villa properties that simply don't exist. Hand over a "deposit" and you'll never see it again.
  • Unfamiliar brands - Before booking through a company you've never heard of, search for user feedback and reviews online. If in any doubt, use a provider you already know and trust.
  • Unsecure websites - A disreputable firm may fail to properly secure its webpage for online payments. For peace of mind, look for a padlock symbol in your browser window.

Top Tip - Even if it's a last-minute rush, take the time you need to properly shop around and do your homework. Don't push the "buy" button until you're absolutely sure it's the holiday you want. And remember, the lowest price does not always mean the best deal.

How to avoid problems

The following checklist provides a summary of advice from Get Safe Online and the Travel Essentials Checklist developed in collaboration with ABTA, The Travel Association. Read this before booking a holiday online and you should be able to relax, knowing you've made the right decision.

Take your time and shop around

It's great that booking online means we can leave our planning to last minute - and often save money by doing so - but you should never rush into anything you're unsure of. Take all the time you need to research your hotel, airline or tour operator and compare prices with at least one website before going through with your decision. Ensure there's nothing you've forgotten, like insurance or transfers to and from the airport.

Be careful and do your homework

Check the track record of any holiday firm you're unfamiliar with. Make sure it's a member of a recognised travel authority, such as ABTA. This would mean it had signed up to a strict code of conduct which helps protect you from rip-off deals. ABTA also has a consumer helpline if you have any queries about a member company, and a complaint handling service if you have problems.

Don't be fooled by fraudsters

A common trick used by scammers is an email or phone call claiming you've won a prize, like a luxury trip abroad. The only "catch" is that you'll need to pay a small fee to secure your winnings, which, in reality, are probably non-existent. There's a risk you'll never see your deposit again. So remember, if it seems too good to be true, it almost definitely is.

Look for the padlock symbol

Before entering personal or financial detail into any web page, look for signs that tell you the site is secure. In particular, ensure there is a padlock symbol in the bottom right of your browser window. Payment pages should also have a URL starting with https:// to indicate that it's safe.

Keep records and monitor your payment

Always save the confirmation emails and receipts you receive, as well as keeping a printed copy for your records. Be sure to check your credit card or bank statement carefully once the holiday is booked. Notify your bank immediately if you suspect anything is wrong.

Don't advertise your home to burglars

Never post your holiday dates on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Telling everyone when you're going highlights the fact your home will be empty for a week or two. There are frequent reports of houses being burgled after the owner shared too much information online.

Use common sense

Always trust your instincts and think carefully about what you're buying. If it's a five-star holiday at a rock-bottom price, there's a chance you're missing something. If something doesn't add up, take extra steps to verify the offer. If you're still in doubt, stay away.

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